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Dogs to be trained to sniff out COVID-19 cases

Sniffer dogs are being trained to help detect coronavirus symptoms after researchers began a project to find out whether canines can smell the virus.

Dogs have already been trained to detect diseases such as cancer, Parkinson’s and bacterial infections, and researchers believe COVID-19 may also give off a scent that the animals can pick up.

Medical Detection Dogs, in the coming weeks, will be working in partnership with the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine (LSHTM) and Durham University to attempt to train dogs to sniff out the disease.

Charity manager Dr Claire Guest said it had to find out how to “safely catch the odour of the virus from patients”.

“In principle, we’re sure that dogs could detect coronavirus,” she said.

Dogs could be ready in six weeks

If the tests on dogs are proven, they could be used to screen anyone, including those with no symptoms.

Dr Guest said, “this would be fast, effective and non-invasive and make sure the limited NHS testing resources are only used where they are really needed”.

LSHTM head of disease control Prof James Logan said various researches on dogs showed they could detect the smell of malaria infection with a level of accuracy “above the World Health Organisation standards for a diagnostic”.

Saying that each disease had its own unique odour, Medical Detection Dogs said the experiment hopefully will be productive.

Dogs could be ready in six weeks to help provide a “rapid, non-invasive diagnosis”, it said.

Dogs could potentially also be trained to tell if someone had a fever.

Prof Steve Lindsay, from Durham University’s Department of Biosciences, said detection dogs could be used at airports to rapidly detect people carrying the virus.

“This would help prevent the re-emergence of the disease after we have brought the present epidemic under control,” he said.

Samra Mazhar

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